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Why Puppies Are the New Babies

A couple kissing with their dog on the man's back.

Millennials are unlike any generation that’s come before them. They’re more independent, more cautious about making big decisions, and more likely to delay traditional life milestones. Less and less Millennials are buying houses, getting married, having children, and settling down into lives similar to the ones their parents and grandparents led; they feel less bound to the traditional nuclear family model, and they value flexibility. But while they wait, Millennials are opting for a different kind of parenthood: pet parenthood.

One stroll through Central Park or one swipe through your Instagram feed gives the illusion that just about everybody in their twenties and thirties has a cat or a dog. San Francisco Animal Control and 2010 U.S. Census data report that there are more dogs living in San Francisco (about 150,000) than there are people under 18 (about 107,524). But just how many young people are pet owners? According to a survey released by Mintel, over half of Americans in their thirties have cats, and a whopping three-fourths have dogs.

“Pets are becoming a replacement for children,” said Jen Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University. “They’re less expensive. You can get one even if you’re not ready to live with someone or get married, and they can still provide companionship.”

One reason for the phenomenon is money. The cost of raising a pet is significantly less than the cost of raising a child. The American Kennel Club estimates that the average first-year cost of raising a dog is anywhere between $2,674 and $3,536. On the other hand, according to a 2013 report from the USDA, the average annual cost of raising a child for a two-parent, middle-income family is between $12,800 and $14,970. To a couple considering having a baby, those are compelling figures.

Another reason Millennials opt for pets over children is the freedom and flexibility they afford. Yes, cats and dogs require lots of love and attention, but it doesn’t compare to the constant mind a parent has to pay a child. It’s not that Millennials are against the idea taking responsibility for another living being. They’re still doing it on a smaller scale, just with an animal, not another human.

Much like they would with a newborn, Millennial pet owners dedicate time to doing their research and finding the best food, toys, and even clothes for their pets. But are puppies and kittens a good “substitute” for babies? They can certainly help prepare you for parenthood. As a pet owner, you’ll become used to setting schedules, helping them learn survival skills, and providing their basic needs.

Raising a pet and raising a baby are drastically different undertakings. But for young people who aren’t ready to dedicate the time to raising a child, or who find it too financially daunting, a pet is a perfect alternative. Who knows? More and more people might turn to adopting pets before having kids—or instead of having them altogether.

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